Work on the Susitna Watana dam will go forward this summer, according to a spokesperson for the state agency tasked with the project.
Emily Ford, public outreach liaison for the Alaska Energy Authority, says the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has give the okay to a dozen
study plans that have been waiting for approval since February of this year.
“And then this month, on April 1, they [FERC] approved the remaining studies. So a very significant milestone was achieved for Susitna – Watana hydro, because now FERC has approved all 58 studies for our environmental field effort ” she says.
Ford says the environmental field effort covers one hundred and eighty six thousand acres in the dam area.
“Actually, in the coming months, as we are approaching spring, early summer, some of the chinook studies and the early season studies will start beginning. We have multi – year studies dedicated to fish resources. And then, we also have some wildlife studies and even botanical resources and cultural resources that will begin this year as well, ” she says.
According to Ford, there are 385 individuals outside of AEA who are contracted to work on the Susitna-Watana project. She says the majorty of those people are Alaskans. 180 workers will be in the field this year.
But he dam plan has raised some concerns in the Talkeetna area, which is down river from the project. Richard Leo heads the board of the Coalition For Susitana Dam Alternatives, a group that opposes the dam.
“There were a number of problems with the studies that FERC approved, and FERC only approved them after recommending many modifications to those studies, which included greater attention to climate change and glacial runoff, to fish passage, to salmon escapement, and issues that indicated the studies continue to be flawed. What AEA is going to do to make those studies more effective is yet to be seen. “
One of the concerns posed by Leo’s group is the impact the dam is likely to have on salmon, which are a major source of Matanuska Susitna Borough sport fishing related income. Leo recently returned from a trip to Juneau, where he lobbied against the dam.
At this time, [Wednesday ] heavy equipment is being shipped North on the Alaska Railroad to be used to bulldoze an airstrip at the Stephan [ STEP han ] Lake Lodge, a remote fishing and hunting lodge closer to the dam site. The lodge will be the headquarters for the AEA personnel conducting the studies.
John Madsen, owner of the lodge, confirms the plan to build an airstrip at the lodge. Madsen says he has the DNR and Tyonek Native Corporation permits to drag the equipment overland in a cat – train to the site. He says that work will begin tomorrow.[thursday]
But Mike Woods, a resident of Chase, says [on wednesday ] the plan took him and his neighbors by surprise.
“It’s news to us. We only saw the vehicles at the Alaska Railroad yesterday [tuesday] evening, yesterday afternoon and evening, and then started to explore where they were going. “
Woods says the terrain there is not suitable for heavy equipment. He says he only recently traversed the cat trail route by snowmachine.
“There’s been no plan to create an ice road. This is just adventure travel across the tundra to establish a road in what has been roadless areas. The permit specifies that they cannot touch ground. They can only be on snow travel. But if they are, like, disturbing the ground and the waterways leading into the Susitana River in anyway, that immediately violates their permit, ” Woods says.
Woods says the equipment could leave permanent scars on the landscape, because there isn’t a protective layer of ice and snow. He says the public has not been informed of this recent development regarding the dam. “The public notice process totally failed. ” he said.